Robert Redford has remained the most resilient symbol of the Sundance Film Festival since its inception. To some degree, the movies come second: Even the breakout hits, like last year's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," take on new identities once they move beyond the festival environment. While Sundance alone can never define the best work in contemporary cinema, Redford takes great pride in his continuing ability to expose it.
Like clockwork, the actor-director-activist speaks confidently with press on the first day of the festival about the lasting value of Sundance as it moves through each decade of changes to the art and commerce of filmmaking, and this year was no exception.
However, this time he made a curious admission: If he had the opportunity to create Sundance today, he might think twice.
"I think there are probably too many festivals," Redford told a roundtable of journalists in Park City this afternoon. The actor said his interest in Sundance grew out of a frustration about the platforms available to films that interested him early in his career. "I started getting anxious about the stories that I wanted to tell," he said. "I realized over time that I was straddling two worlds and more and more happen with the smaller films. I wanted to extend that."
Since then, the prospects of film festivals highlighting work either outside of the mainstream or adjacent to it has expanded to such a great degree that, when asked if he might want to launch Sundance in the current environment, the response was instant: "Probably not," he said, then echoed a sentiment expressed at last year's festival, when he made the bold assertion that Sundance was the only "truly independent" gathering of its kind.
Redford clarified that he would launch Sundance "if there was still a space to have an independent festival, because it's really independence that interests me." By contrast, he quickly ticked off the limited festival environment when Sundance began. "There was Cannes, there was Toronto, I think Telluride was just gearing up. There was the oldest festival in the world in Locarno, Italy. Lincoln Center hadn't gotten to where it is. And then Berlin hadn't come yet. So we had an exclusive space that was sharpened by the fact that we were the only independent festival in the world. So that felt good."
These days, however, "there's a festival in every neighborhood," he added. "I don't know about the overriding value except that we'll get the chance to see more films."